Discovering the Unique Qualities & Origins Of Hairless Guinea Pigs
Guinea pigs are known for their cute, docile yet playful temperament, their cute little noises, but above all, their fluffy and lovable appearance. Like bunnies, hamsters and gerbils, these lovable fluffballs fill the hearts and homes of many families around the world. But not all guinea pigs are fluffy.
There are two types of guinea pigs that are naturally bald, both as a result of genetic mutations but with different genes responsible in each of the two types. There are also some guinea pigs that might be full of hair, but start to develop localised baldness or thinning. Why would this happen?
In this post we take a look at the different hairless guinea pigs, their origins and characteristics, as well as some of the reasons that fluffy guinea pigs may start to lose their hair.
Hairless Guinea Pigs
Baldwin Guinea Pigs
Baldwin’s hairless guinea pigs are said to have originated from a spontaneous genetic mutation that resulted in hairlessness. The mutation was first spotted by a breeder in San Diego, California called Carol Miller. It was observed in the offspring of Carol’s white crested guinea pigs with golden agouti coloring.
The gene that results in the hairlessness must be present in both parents for the condition to be displayed in the offspring. If only one parent has the gene, then the offspring will maintain their hair, but they will also become ‘carriers’ of one copy of the recessive gene responsible for the baldness. Breeding two ‘carriers’ together will result in Baldwin hairless guinea pigs 25% of the time and either normal or carrier guinea pigs for the remainder.
This breed is still a very recent discovery, but as the mutation has been repeated with relative ease, they are becoming popular. The anatomy of these guinea pigs is exactly the same as the haired variety, with the exception of baldness and a faster metabolic rate.
These guinea pigs are born with full fur coats, however, begin to shed their hair at two to five days old as a result of the recessive gene. By two months of age, they are nearly completely bald, except for some whiskers and a few hairs on their feet.
In terms of appearance, Baldwin’s Hairless Guinea Pigs have wrinkled skin and rounded, full bodies with small, curious faces and large droopy ears. The wrinkles are obvious around areas of their crown and shoulders where they would normally have a crest. Their skin often has a rubbery feel to it, but can look similar to human skin otherwise.
Due to their lack of hair, they can feel cold to the touch, so they need to be kept in a warm environment and handled carefully. They also, should not be exposed to direct sunlight, an indoor environment is recommended for these animals, with plenty of ‘nesting’ bedding and additional heat sources that can be used on cold days.
It’s important to note that while they’re adorable and unique, they do require more care than traditional guinea pig breeds, as they’re more prone to skin issues, and can be more sensitive to temperature changes and sunburn. They should ideally, be kept in an environment around 24 to 26 °C (75 to 79 °F).
They also need more energy to keep their body warm, and therefore need to eat more to provide this energy.
Baldwin Guinea Pig Colors
Despite the hairlessness, Baldwin guinea pigs can come in a variety of different standard colors and patterns. While they were first mutated from guinea pigs with the golden agouti color and pattern, they can have the same pattern as any haired guinea pig, including Self, Ticked, Dutch or Himalayan.
The history of these guinea pigs is so far, relatively short, tracing it’s origins back to a laboratory. The original parents of the skiny pig were a normal hairy guinea pig and a hairless laboratory guinea pig that was itself, the result of either a natural or ‘forced’ genetic mutation. The original mutation took place in Hartley lab guinea pigs held in the Armand Frappier Institute in Montreal, Canada in 1978.
The guinea pigs displaying this mutation were later sent in 1982, to Charles River Laboratories to be crossbred for laboratory use. The resulting hairless crossbreed is what we know today as the Skinny Pig.
Similarly to the Baldwin guinea pig, the baldness in skinny pigs is the result of a mutation with a recessive gene. Where two skinny pigs are bred together, the offspring will always be hairless skinny pigs. Breeding a normal, fluffy guinea pig with a skinny pig will result in all offspring having hair, but also carrying one copy of the recessive gene.
Haired carriers will always have hair, but when bred together or with a skinny, the offspring will either be skinny, normal or carriers themselves.
Skinny pigs tend to have smooth skin, with wrinkling around the neck and legs. Their skin may feel almost human-like. They will have short hair generally on their feet and legs, as well as on the bridge down from their head to their nose. They may also have a very short and thin, almost fuzzy hair down their backs too.
Unlike the Baldwin guinea pig, the skinny pig is born without much hair, and remains that way rather than losing it over the first few weeks. They are anatomically and physically the same as any haired variety, but with a greater energy, faster metabolic rate and baldness.
The greater energy and activity level is likely due to the extra work they need to do to keep themselves warm, as is the faster metabolic rate. Because of this, they need to eat more food and water to maintain their greater fuel needs.
Like the baldwin, the skinny is also vulnerable to temperature changes and to direct sunlight. The hot sun can burn their skin and they don’t have the same measure of temperature control that a haired guinea pig does. They need to be kept indoors, ideally with a regulated temperature and extra measures for keeping warm on a cold day.
The bald skin on a skinny pig is also more susceptible to fungal infections than fluffy varieties, and they may need extra care to protect from this too.
Skinny Pig Colors
While they may be bald, the skinny pig can still come in a variety of colors of skin pigmentation. They can have a variety of patterns you would expect from any haired variety, including including Dutch, tortoiseshell, ticked, roan and Himalayan. The little hair that they do have on their face and legs, can also be in a variety of the standard guinea pig colors.
Main Differences Between A Skinny And A Baldwin Guinea Pig
- Both types of hairless guinea pig are the result of a recessive gene, but the gene responsible is different for the Baldwin than for the Skinny.
- Skinny pigs are born hairless, whereas Baldwin guinea pigs are born with hair that falls out over the first few days and weeks
- Baldwins usually only have whiskers and a little hair on their feet, whereas Skinny pigs can have a bit more hair on their face and legs too.
Concerns For Hairless Breeds
The main concern for these hairless guinea pigs is for their wellbeing. They are both still relatively new breeds and both require more care than your standard guinea pig. It is important that owners are aware of the additional needs to ensure these animals are kept warm, clean and safe. They cost more to heat and feed, and their homes need cleaned more often.
As relatively new breeds, there are also concerns that we don’t fully understand the potential consequences of promoting the recessive mutation. For instance, there are concerns around the efficacy of their immune system function.
Why Might A Fluffy Guinea Pig Lose Its Hair?
While most guinea pigs do have a full coat of fluffy fur, there are occasions where they may suffer hair loss. It’s not that these are a bald breed, but for some reason have started to molt or lose their hair. Some of the common reasons for this include:
Some parasites such as mange mites can be very common with guinea pigs. These can cause hair loss with a guinea pig, and scratching through irritable skin. This is easily treatable once diagnosed.
Fungal infections, such as Ringworm can also be a cause of hair loss, usually starting around the face. Most fungal infections are again, easily treatable with anti fungal medications or creams.
- Self Inflicted
Some guinea pigs may suffer hair loss through self ‘barbering’ where they trim their own hair. Some breeds such as the Peruvian or the Abyssinian guinea pig are known to do this for no particular reason. Others however, may result to self barbering as a result of a pain or discomfort.
A guinea pig may also find themselves a target for barbering by another pig, that is perhaps over friendly, bored or disgruntled.
- Ovarian Cysts
In female guinea pigs, ovarian cysts can be a cause of bilateral hair loss, around the flanks. This hair loss is usually the result of postpartum or hormonal imbalance.
- Natural Hair Loss
Guinea Pigs do sometimes develop bald patches behind their ears or lose some hair naturally, but this is usually in small, localised areas.
Did You Know?
Breeding a skinny and a Baldwin guinea pig together will likely result in a normal, hairy guinea pig. This is because while both of these pigs are bald, their hair loss is due to different recessive genes. Each parent will only have one copy of the receive gene responsible for their own hair loss. In the offspring, they will have one cope of each of the recessive genes instead of two copies of either which they would need to be hairless themselves.